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Pineapples: A year of extremes

After a period of scarcity with significantly higher prices for pineapples, the situation had completely reversed by the end of October. According to Frank Ocampo of Hagé International, the growing juice industry in particular will be of influence on the European pineapple market.

“The pineapple market has increased significantly in recent years. Every European country imports pineapples, either directly or indirectly,” says Ocampo. While the summer period was characterised by shortages from Costa Rica, supply was as good as back on track by the end of October. This meant almost a tripling compared with supply in the months before October. Ocampo explains that especially thicker sizes were unavailable from Costa Rica in recent months. “The new planting process could not be carried out because of heavy rain. This means it was the second harvest from the same plants, resulting in more smaller sizes being available.” Furthermore, the flourishing juice industry has also not stimulated exports to Europe. Favourable prices on local markets have ensured many pineapples remained in Costa Rica for processing.

left: Employees applying post harvest treatment to the fruit.
right: A ‘cutter’ at work. Every cutting is manually planted with a type of large spoon. This is a very labour-intensive job.

Prices plummeted drastically
Last year was a very good pineapple year, and the first half of 2016 was perhaps one of the better periods of the last decade regarding price, quality and stability. “As a result, parties have entered this market who do not actually have the right knowledge or contacts. They import a few containers, but they lack the correct sales channels, meaning they cannot actually handle the volumes. Anyone can sell on a good market, but when the chips are down and you do not have programmes, you get stuck. We therefore always operate about 70 per cent on programme, and 30 per cent is for loose sales. In this manner, you can serve everyone, anticipate as needed, and guarantee continuity.”

Frank Ocampo in one of the bins behind the tractor, in which the pineapple is stacked directly after harvesting.

According to Ocampo, it is not just fortune hunters, but actually the entire day trading sector that suffers from this. “We currently have so much supply, that some trade is even given away free of obligation. And that is such a shame, for the entire sector. Losses are had, no matter what.” The pineapple market reached its lowest point at the end of October. Within a week, prices plummeted from 14 or 15 euro to 6 euro per box. Ocampo expects the market will have stabilised again at the end of November, and prices will be a respectable 9 euro. “We will not revisit the extremely high prices we had earlier this year.”

What is the juice industry going to do?
The juice industry in Costa Rica is more worrying to Ocampo. Factories are now at about 40 per cent of capacity, and will therefore definitely be able to use more volume in the coming years. If the good market for the processing industry persists, Ocampo thinks less supply will be available for export. Many pineapple producers are already planting additional pineapples for the juice industry. “If the situation changes, more pineapples will suddenly be available for the fresh market, and we will have to deal with a massive surplus on the export market. This is definitely something we have to bear in mind.”

Frank Ocampo.

Hagé International mostly imports pineapples from Costa Rica. With a pineapple area of 40,000 hectares, this is the largest production country in the world. The strain MD2, better known as Golden, is cultivated in Costa Rica. “We also import pineapples from Panama, and we are conducting trials with Ecuador and Colombia. This is purely to see what quality is like in these countries. We cannot actually conduct any programmes yet. Besides GlobalGAP we also require, in cooperation with customers, the Rainforest Alliance certification. We are doing quite well with that, but it can be difficult in emerging countries,” Ocampo says. “There are, by the way, still plenty of European supermarket chains who still need a service provider, for example, for filling in promotions or filling mix trucks. We can easily combine a Dutch product with an imported product, and that can be beneficial for many parties.”

Frank Ocampo helps with the harvesting. The pineapples are placed on a belt and are transported to a cart pulled by a tractor, before the bins are filled.

The largest European sales markets for pineapple are Germany and Spain. “All European countries increasingly import pineapples, but these two countries buy the largest share of the volume. Eastern Europe and Russia are also growing.” Hagé mostly focuses on Dutch and European retail, but pineapples are also becoming more popular in Asia and the Middle East. Countries such as Korea and Japan are supplied directly from Costa Rica or Panama, but pineapple from the Philippines can also be found in Asia.

For more information:
Hage International
Fraank Ocampo
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